Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Clams Casino

This is one of the all time greatest clam recipes!  Absolutely delicious!
     My first job in the restaurant business was as a dishwasher and prep cook at one of the busiest seafood restaurants in Florida.  In the old days, a cook started at the very bottom end of a restaurant.  You had to learn how to scrub pots and clean first, before you learned how to cook!  Dishwashing is a great way to develop good hand speed and agility.
     The menu was simply raw, broiled or fried fresh seafood.  We were the best at selecting fresh seafood to sell.  The owner would drive about 400 miles in a van to purchase oysters and clams fresh off the boat in Apalachicola or farther up the coast to Pensacola.  The clams and oysters were the best!  We had a 75 person capacity in that restaurant and we served over 900 customers a night.  That steaming hot Florida seafood shack of a restaurant was a gold mine!  The waiting line to get in was a block long.
     The owner cooked a fancy clam dish that was not on the menu for himself one night.  I asked what the dish was.  He said "Try one!"  One clam casino was all that it took to get me hooked!  The flavor was incredibly good.  A few years later, I learned the clams casino recipe while working at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. 
     The only variable in a clams casino recipe is the choice of bacon.  Cheap bacon tastes like cheap bacon.  A light hickory and white oak smoked bacon is best for this recipe.  Heavy smoked bacon is too strong of a flavor.  Any kind of clam up to the size of a cherrystone or large neck can be used to make clams casino.
     Recipe:  Fine chop some lightly smoked uncooked bacon. 
     Saute the bacon slowly over medium heat in a saute pan. 
     When the bacon starts to get some light brown color, add a a small splash of olive oil.
     Add a a small handful of minced shallot.
     Add 4 minced garlic cloves.
     Add  a handful of fine chopped red bell pepper and fine chopped green bell pepper. 
     Add a light sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. 
     Add a pinch of oregano. 
     When the peppers and shallots are cooked al dente, remove the pan from the heat.
     Shuck some fresh clams so they are attached on the half shell. 
     Rinse any broken shell off of the clams under cold running water. 
     Cut the muscles that attach the clam to the half shell. 
     Set the clams on the half shell onto a baking pan.  (A bed of rock salt on the baking pan allows the clams to set evenly.)
     Spoon some of the pepper, garlic and shallot mixture on each clam. 
     Sprinkle just a tiny amount of fine grated parmesan cheese on top of the pepper mix. 
     Squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto each clam. 
     Sprinkle a tiny amount of fine ground plain bread crumbs on each clam. 
     Drizzle a little bit of virgin olive oil on each clam.
     Place the baking pan and clams into a 450 degree oven. 
     Bake the clams casino for 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the clams. 
     The clams casino is done baking when the shells are hot and the topping becomes a light golden brown color.  (The clams don't have to be over cooked and dry to be done.  The clams should be tender, warm, juicy and cooked al dente.)
     Place a bed of parsley sprigs or endive lettuce like a circle around the border of a plate. 
     Set the clams on the bed of lettuce. 
     Sprinkle a little bit of chopped parsley over the clams. 
     Garnish the center of the plate with a fluted edge lemon slice that has fine chopped parsley pressed onto the fruit.
     The flavor of clams casino is such a classic taste.  Shallot, garlic, peppers, bacon and lemon is the fine aroma.  The topping combines with the clams own juices to create a nice flavor.  The virgin olive oil and parmesan adds to the flavor and aroma.  If you like clams, this dish is heaven!  In Philadelphia, bluefish casino is popular too.  Delicious!  ...  Shawna      

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